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I remember when Miracle on 34th Street once warmed my heart, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas filled me with joy and A Christmas Carol made me count my blessings for the year. We interrupt this kind of mushy nonsense in the fashion a trailer for a Hollywood movie would -- and indulge me here, if you will, with the imagined sound of a record scratching and then maybe Motorhead chainsawing out a ferocious version of “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or something. You really love these films still? Seriously? It’s not just the nostalgia talking? Have fun with your tree-decorating party, but don’t invite me because I’m not gonna show. Make no mistake, I love Christmas -- but in my own way, a way that involves NOT watching the exact same 10 or so films I’ve had to watch every year since I was a toddler. Now it’s time to put on MY selection of Christmas classics...
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians...(The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Version)
Regularly listed as one of the worst films ever made, this 1964 crap-fest made its way to the crap magnifying glass that the MSTK gang wields so handily. It’s the Plan 9 From Outer Space of Holiday films, and, like all of the MST stuff, is enjoyed best in a room full of half-lit friends. Start the eggnog early and while you’re at it, why not get something from their later project at Rifftrax.com, The Star Wars Holiday Christmas Special? Trust me, you don’t want to watch that legendary monstrosity without snarky remarks, no matter how big a Star Wars fan you think you are.
The least horrifying of the horror selections on my list, Gremlins, after all these years, is still entertaining as hell. I get an evil thrill every time watching the little monsters wreak havoc on the ornamental side of X-mas and eventually all die horribly during a screening of Snow White, a sequence my local theater uses as a ‘don’t talk in the theater’ promo before the movies start. Phoebe Cates may not take her swimsuit off in slow motion, but she was very much the super-hawt snow bunny here when the film came out in 1984. And hey ... Corey Feldman. ‘Nuff said.
Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas
Forget the various and sundry Muppet Christmas movies; the best thing Jim Henson ever did for the winter solstice was this oft-overlooked 1977 X-mas TV special featuring none of the regular Muppets cast, but with new characters in an alternative take on Gift of the Magi. This was one of the best things ever released by Henson’s company with no Kermit (at least not in the final version anyway, thanks to legal issues and such). And that will be the only film devoid of adult content on my list. Promise.
Day of the Beast
This 1995 Spanish film by Alex de la Iglesia ranks up there with the very best entries in the horror-comedy genre. The story is of a Catholic priest who has discovered that the only way to stop the Antichrist from being born is to sin heavily enough to get an audience with Satan himself on Christmas Day so he can kill the evil little tyke during his interview. He is joined in his X-mas quest by a heavy metal drug addict and the host of a TV series about the occult, which makes for an awkwardly hysterical three-way buddy comedy for those of us with less-than-strict churchgoing standards. Right from the opening scene, when a priest is crushed to death by his massive crucifix falling on him, you’ll be taken to a magical land of enchantment. Hey, it takes place on Christmas and there is LOTS of the color red -- what more could you ask for, "spirit of the season"-wise?
Kiss Kiss Bang Bang
Writer Shane Black really digs making his action comedies take place on Christmas, as you could easily substitute this for his other two films Lethal Weapon or The Long Kiss Goodnight -- but for my money, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is his masterpiece and odds are you haven’t even seen it yet. Robert Downey Jr plays a thief so desperate that he’s robbing X-mas presents. While running from the cops, he stumbles onto an audition for a hardboiled detective film and while pretending to be just another actor vying for the role, he ends up unexpectedly getting the part. He flies off to L.A. to be coached by “Gay” Perry, a very non-clichéd homosexual private investigator played to comedic genius by Val Kilmer. The two end up stumbling into a complicated murder plot and are helped by the wonderfully coincidental childhood friend of Downey’s character, played by Michelle Monaghan, who, while wearing a skimpy Santa suit, fulfilled fantasies I didn’t even know I had. Brilliant, hysterical and despite what I’ve said so far, more Christmasy than you’d expect.
The funniest Denis Leary movie, hands down, AND one of the only films I’ve ever seen that manages to nail what Christmas is supposed to be all about (family, love, etc.) without coming across as even the slightest bit syrupy. Leary plays a thief who breaks into the home of a hateful married couple (Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis) who are reluctantly throwing a Christmas Eve dinner for their family. Leary holds them all hostage, and as more and more of the extended family show up, the pent-up aggression in the family builds and builds and Leary finds himself in the role of peacemaker and even psychologist to keep the clan from killing each other. Awesomeness with a slice of Christmas turkey.
Jack Frost/Silent Night, Deadly Night
First off, I am decidedly not talking about the atrocious Michael Keaton film in which his soul goes into the body of a snowman. While I admit that it is certainly more frightening on many levels than the 1996 horror film of the same name, I’d only advise watching it if you’ve already made peace with your brain serving a purpose only as a counterweight to your feet. The horror film ain’t so great either, but it’s a crowd pleaser with its incredibly silly seasonal-related deaths, especially that of Shannon Elizabeth, in her first screen appearance, being raped by a carrot nose and then murdered in the bath by the giant killer snowman. Less funny but actually kind of scary is the slasher film Silent Night Deadly Night, about a kid who has some serious Santa issues from his childhood and becomes more like Old Nick than Saint Nick. If you prefer the goofier stuff, look to the horrible yet amusing-in-their-own-way sequels. Better double the rum in the nog before attempting them, though. Just warning ya.
Based loosely on the John Ford film 3 Godfathers, this lovely Japanese anime film follows three homeless people who find an abandoned child on Christmas Eve and decide to cook and eat it. No, I’m kidding -- they try to find the parents, although I would totally watch the cannibal version. Along the way, they meet Yakuza and hitmen and all manner of unsavory types, but the three are unswayed in their determination and we learn about where they came from and how they ended up in the street. It’s dark but absolutely wonderful, a Christmas fable for now that doesn’t oversimplify its morals in order to deliver its warm ending. So creative and heartfelt, it feels like a new classic.
Children of Men
This was for my money the best film of 2006, and although it’s not outwardly a Christmas film, once you take a distanced look at the story of the first human child about to be born in 18 years and the people trying to find a safe haven for the mother to deliver it -- well, let’s just say the metaphor is there whether you want to see it or not. This is a brilliant film about hope in even the darkest of times that manages to stimulate both your intellect and your heartstrings (and if you have a thing for Julianne Moore, like I do, your groin muscles).
OK, OK, I'm hardly the first guy to put this, the king of all Everyman action movies, onto a Christmas list, so it's not so shocking anymore, but I'll be damned if it isn't my absolute favorite Christmas movie. We get good cheer, forgiveness, love, X-mas music, AND John McClaine killing terrorists? Sounds like a Christmas miracle to me. I've been warming my tootsies by the roasting chestnuts to this Bruce Willis action classic since you first could get it on videotape. Yippee-kai-yay, mother f$#%@^! And to all a good night!
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